The GPD Win Max

The GPD Win Max

I have always had a soft spot for (near-)pocketable devices that –successfully or otherwise– punch above their weight. From the pre-smartphone Pocket PCs days, to the short-lived UPCs and UMPCs, there have always been companies trying to bravely attempt to pack a tremendous amount in an as small as possible package. In the early 2000s Sony led the way with their VAIO U and UX line, and OQO briefly appeared-then-disappeared with their at the time absolutely mindblowing devices, just to name a few.

The way-ahead-of-its-time OQO Model 01, running a heavily tweaked and skinned Windows XP. (Photo taken in late 2007)

I have tried a multitude of these devices throughout the years. From the Casio Casiopeia E-125 Pocket PC, the OQO Model 01 (pictured above) to absolute oddities like the Raon Everun (pictured below).

The Everun by Raon Digital, an oddly designed device that I somehow thought was worth owning back in 2008 – if only for a very short amount of time.(Photo taken in late 2008)

The devices that got much closer in my opinion were the Sony Vaio UX50, and later the U50. The former was delightfully cute in its bulkiness, and the latter was quite powerful for its time, and I, for some unknown reason, actually star in a magazine article with it. This was supposed to be an interview the company I worked for at the time strongly encouraged I write for, but it ended up being a weird article with pretty much zero accurate fact about me listed in there. But, hey, it's a memory for sure :).

Photo showing my first and last ever article in a small Korean magazine, where I star with several of my nerdy gadgets. The photos are really me, the text is really not. Circa late 2009.

I have also tried multiple devices made by GPD. The Android-powered XD – which is a really nice little device, with an OS much better suited for quick on-the-go gaming– was really fun, and I loved playing through and completing GTA San Andreas on it, among other things. The Win 1 had so much potential but ultimately fell a bit short in terms of performance, and Windows certainly showed its limitations on such a portable device with relatively tiny display.

The Pocket 2 was a great looking micro laptop that fit beautifully in the "phone" sleeve inside my shoulder bag, the keyboard's layout made coding on it a bit harder, but its actual keyswitches were fantastic. It was a joy to type on that, especially compared to Apple's absolutely horrendous butterfly keyboards.

Sprinkled in-between were also more common devices, like an iPod Touch, the first generation iPad (I may have been one of the very first people in South Korea tp own one of those actually, having imported it straight from the US right after it launched) as-well as more gaming-focussed devices like the PSP (again, imported just as it launched in Japan, I was one of the very first in The Netherlands to have a much more entertaining daily bus commute), and Nintendo Switch.

A genuine reaction to interacting with the first iPad. Circa May, 2010.

In more recent years GPD has been leading the way to keep the original dream of tiny computers alive, and to bring it into the modern era. Their recently anounced GPD Win 3 is a beautiful ode to the Vaio UX, and packs a serious punch in terms of performance. I absolutely love that this device exists, and that companies like GPD, One Netbook, and the new up-and-coming AYA push this market forward.

But the Win3 is not very suitable to me, due to the combination of price and form factor. It's really only useful as a pure gaming device with its flat, thumb-type-only keyboard useful only really to enter a quick password or URL or so. At its price point it is not justifiable for that single purpose, at least not for me. While you can dock it and use it as a more than decent desktop, in my case I really have little use of that as I already have a desktop setup.

My preference goes to a portable device that's great for games, but can also be used for something slightly more serious when needed. The GPD Pocket 2 covered the latter decently, but it failed at the former as it lacked any built-in controls that were usable for gaming. That horrible little touch pointer thingy ruined any possibility of being useful for playing some classic RTS/Strategy titles, and it had no built-in gamepad controls at all.

The GPD Win 1 certainly had the right gamepad controls, though its keyboard was only really useful for a quick hunt-and-peck password entry or so. Its performance was limiting to say the least. But that makes sense, as GPD's Win series never really tried to focus on offering a great or even comfortable typing experience. While quite a few people could indeed thumb-type quite well on a Win2, it of course does not compare to a more traditional "sit at your table" type setup.

This is what the Win Max tries to solve, at least in part. As anyone who has ever used these ultra portable devices can attest to, these small sizes always come with sacrifices in the keyboard department. Especially if you need to type special characters with some frequency like when coding it can become a challenge to memorize and use the often odd key positions and combinations.

The GPD Win Max' keyboard is better than the Pocket 2's was, but still has less ideal button placements.

With every generation the creators of these devices try to get closer to a great layout, but the fundamental challenge remains almost impossible, as (high) portability and a great keyboard layout are almost directly opposed to one another, so a balance with sacrifices on both ends needs to be made.

After a particularly challenging 2020 which involved a lot of grief and stress, I thought it was alright give myself a bit of positive distraction. I also wanted this to encourage myself to take a break every now and then, something that I don't nearly do often enough. With a device like this I can sit on the couch in the living room and play through some of my near-infinite gaming backlog, away from the home office.

With details of the Win3 coming out, I decided to take a closer look at their previously released Win Max. While it's not pocketable in the literal sense, that does not really concern me as I wouldn't want to put a device like this in my jeans pocket anyway. I carry a shoulder bag or backpack for that, and that's how I used to carry the Pocket 2 with me too. What the Max does have is a more usable keyboard, great specs, and full game controls built into the device. And, especially with some tweaking, it has great battery life too.

The Win Max is big compared to its brethren but small compared to everything else, at just 20cm wide by 14cm deep, and about 2.6cm thick.

The Win Max packs enough punch to comfortably run the games that I'm most interested in these days, which seems to cover the early 2000s to mid-2010s, pretty much. If pushed this device can even run recently released titles, and sometimes incredibly well at that. With so many titles in my backlog, though, I don't really have much reason to focus on new(er) titles. When I do, though, I'll probably check those out on my main computer – like Star Citizen, for example.

My hope is still to have a device like the Max but with AMD internals (and perhaps more reasonably sized screen bezels). The Max' successor is possibly going to have both of these things, but as that release is probably a year away. Because these devices will always have a next model that will improve at least one thing over the previous one, I decided to bite the proverbial bullet now and buy a second-hand Win Max.

Ports on the back of the Win Max: a full-size HDMI, 2x USB-A, and 2x USB-C 3.1gen2 ports with Thunderbolt 3.

It, too, comes with a ton of ports (see above photo), especially when considering its size. It truly puts a MacBook to shame. On the front of the device you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the left a toggle that switches between gamepad or mouse emulation mode. Oh, and it has a full-sized ethernet jack. Yeah, no kidding.

Oh, and it supports Thunderbolt 3. If you ever plan on using an external GPU, this device has you covered. Holy cow.

Ports the right of the device: gigabit ethernet port (!), and a microSD slot.

Specs wise the Win Max comes with an Intel Core i5-1035G7 with 4 cores and hyperthreading, 16GB dual-channel DDR4 RAM, and by default comes with a 512GB NVMe SSD. I have upgraded mine to an 1TB Western Digital Blue SN550 NVMe. It has an 8" screen with a resolution of 1280x800 (16:10). Connectivity wise it comes with a full-size gigabit ethernet port built-in, as-well as WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5 wireless connectivity.

The battery is rated at 57Wh, and charging works with PD compatible USB-C chargers as-well as battery packs. This means it will work great with the Hyperjuice 27000mAh battery I have, which is very nice. Strangely enough, it does not seem to like the original 29W 12" MacBook charger at all. I guess it's not powerful enough?

As you can probably tell, this is one tiny powerhouse.

I will be dedicating some of my upcoming posts to this device ranging from what or how I'm using it, some guides on how to install or achieve certain things, to performance of it certain games. The first post will be a guide on how to install Manjaro Linux on the Win Max. It's fairly straight-forward, but as GPDs devices tend to have a wonky screen setup it does require a bit of tinkering to get that part to work properly at least.

Some of you who have been following my blog a bit longer might remember that I had previously attempted to use Manjaro on my main machine, so this is kind of a second attempt I suppose.

Another reason why I chose Manjaro over Ubuntu is that Manjaro comes with more recent Linux Kernel versions by default, one which also include the Fsync patches, something I've been wanting to try to use. As this device is primarily for gaming I wanted to make sure it was easy enough to have the recent-most versions of everything. And, as mentioned, it's my second attempt at using Manjaro. Two birds, one stone.

I will also try to cover some performance related topics, as I have personally been curious how well certain games will perform on this device while running Linux. I think there are many examples on YouTube and other places for this under Windows, but very few covering performance under Linux specifically. I hope to fix that by providing at least some examples.

Thank you.


GPD Pocket 2